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Vice President Kamala Harris Emphasizes the Importance of Reproductive Rights In Fireside Chat at Howard

(L to R): Errin Haines, DeWanda Wise, and Vice President Kamala Harris in Cramton auditorium for the State of Our Union: Reproductive Rights news special. Photo courtesy of the White House. 

In an hour-long moderated conversation, Vice President Kamala Harris returned to her alma mater, Howard University, to discuss the implications of revoking women’s reproductive rights and encouraged students nationwide to exercise their right to vote in the midterm elections.

The “State of Our Union: Reproductive Rights” news special was moderated by 19th News journalist Errin Haines. Harris, joined by actress DeWanda Wise, responded to questions posed by Haines to a live audience of Howard students in Cramton auditorium, where the special was broadcasted by BET on Nov. 7. 

Over the past several weeks, the vice president has spoken with numerous reproductive rights activists and student leaders from across the country in ongoing discussions about future abortion rights and healthcare. 

Harris opened the discussion by acknowledging the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June. “The highest court in our land, the United States Supreme Court, just took a constitutional right that was recognized by the people of America, by the women of America,” Harris said.

Harris added that a person does not have to “abandon their faith” to agree that the government should not have authority over a woman’s body. 

Individual states now have the right to maintain, restrict or outright ban abortion access for the first time in nearly 50 years. Since the Supreme Court decision on June 24, 13 states have heavily restricted or banned abortions, some with no exception for incest or rape. 

Airis Aaron, a sophomore film and TV major from Nashville, watched the news special from the audience and shared how impactful it felt for her to see the vice president address reproductive rights ahead of the midterm elections.

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“For me, I wanted to come to learn more about what I could be doing as a student, as someone who has reproductive issues that affect my mental health,” Aaron said. “Unexpected pregnancy is not something that would be good for me, so abortion rights and that right to medical care are really important.”

In Aaron’s home state of Tennessee, abortion trigger bans were implemented shortly after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Under the Human Life Protection Act in Tennessee, the procedure is now a class C-felony. 

While a majority of abortions are a result of unintended pregnancies, some women seek out abortions for life-saving medical reasons, according to medical experts. 

Wise, known for her role as Nola Darling in the 2017 adaptation of “She’s Gotta Have It,” shared a personal story of how reproductive rights and healthcare access benefited her mother, who had an ectopic pregnancy.  

“Now, part of the protection and the federal protection is ensuring that even those emergency procedures are protected everywhere, they’re coming under attack too and those are life saving,” Wise said. “When we talk about the mortality rate for Black women, it’s absolutely unthinkable.”

According to a report done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women were more than three times as likely to die during childbirth compared to white women. For Black women over the age of 40, maternal mortality compared to white women was seven times as likely.

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When asked what can be done to improve maternal healthcare in the U.S., Harris referenced the Reproductive Rights Act that she proposed in 2019, “When I was in the Senate, I proposed a bill that would address the racial bias component of this and would require training of healthcare providers on the issue of racial bias and maternal mortality,” she said.

As vice president, Harris continued her efforts to bring national attention to the maternal mortality crisis. In December 2021, the Office of the Vice President hosted the first annual Maternal Health Day of Action event, holding a national discussion about the importance of maternal healthcare access as maternal mortality rates increase nationwide.

“It causes me to pause and to consider the hypocrisy of these so-called leaders who want to say that they’re ‘for-life,’ but where have they been on the issue of maternal mortality?” Harris said.

“It’s the need for advocacy. It’s the need to have what might be difficult conversations for some, but must be had around the disparities in our healthcare system,” she added.

Harris and Wise closed their discussion by emphasizing the importance of students taking advantage of their right to vote, as all 435 seats are up for re-election in the House of Representatives, and may directly impact the future of reproductive rights, among other key issues

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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